Mitochondrial phylogeography and population structure of the cattle tick Rhipicephalus appendiculatus in the African Great Lakes region

Gaston Amzati Sefu, Roger Pelle, Jean-Berckmans B. Muhigwa, Esther G. Kanduma, Appolinaire Djikeng, Maxime Madder, Nathalie Kirschvink (Promoteur), Tanguy Marcotty (Promoteur)

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The ixodid tick Rhipicephalus appendiculatus is the main vector of Theileria parva, wich causes the highly fatal cattle disease East Coast fever (ECF) in sub-Saharan Africa. Rhipicephalus appendiculatus populations differ in their ecology, diapause behaviour and vector competence. Thus, their expansion in new areas may change the genetic structure and consequently affect the vector-pathogen system and disease outcomes. In this study we investigated the genetic distribution of R. appendiculatus across agro-ecological zones (AEZs) in the African Great Lakes region to better understand the epidemiology of ECF and elucidate R. appendiculatus evolutionary history and biogeographical colonization in Africa.


Sequencing was performed on two mitochondrial genes (cox1 and 12S rRNA) of 218 ticks collected from cattle across six AEZs along an altitudinal gradient in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. Phylogenetic relationships between tick populations were determined and evolutionary population dynamics models were assessed by mismach distribution.


Population genetic analysis yielded 22 cox1 and 9 12S haplotypes in a total of 209 and 126 nucleotide sequences, respectively. Phylogenetic algorithms grouped these haplotypes for both genes into two major clades (lineages A and B). We observed significant genetic variation segregating the two lineages and low structure among populations with high degree of migration. The observed high gene flow indicates population admixture between AEZs. However, reduced number of migrants was observed between lowlands and highlands. Mismatch analysis detected a signature of rapid demographic and range expansion of lineage A. The star-like pattern of isolated and published haplotypes indicates that the two lineages evolve independently and have been subjected to expansion across Africa.


Two sympatric R. appendiculatus lineages occur in the Great Lakes region. Lineage A, the most diverse and ubiquitous, has experienced rapid population growth and range expansion in all AEZs probably through cattle movement, whereas lineage B, the less abundant, has probably established a founder population from recent colonization events and its occurrence decreases with altitude. These two lineages are sympatric in central and eastern Africa and allopatric in southern Africa. The observed colonization pattern may strongly affect the transmission system and may explain ECF endemic instability in the tick distribution fringes.
langue originaleAnglais
Numéro d'article329
Nombre de pages19
journalBMC Parasites & Vectors
Numéro de publication1
Les DOIs
Etat de la publicationPublié - 31 mai 2018


  • East Coast fever
  • Theileria parva
  • Rhipicephalus appendiculatus
  • Phylogenetic
  • cox1
  • 12S rRNA
  • Ticks
  • Evolutionary history
  • Agro-ecological zones
  • Population genetics

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